This article introduces a new experimental paradigm for the study of temporal lobe epilepsy. This approach utilizes the isolated guinea pig brain in vitro preparation, which generates a pattern of hypersynchronous neuronal activity similar to the peculiar 8-30 Hz rhythm characterizing stereoelectroencephalographic hippocampal recordings in human temporal lobe epilepsy. The present report describes an attempt to identify the functional events underlying the epileptiform activities observed in this preparation. Rhythmic epileptiform discharges (EDs), here defined as population spikes (PSs) recorded from somata or dendritic layers, were induced in the hippocampal formation of the isolated guinea pig brain maintained in vitro by tetanic stimulation of the entorhinal cortex (EC). Two patterns of EDs were distinguished by performing simultaneous field potential recordings along the dentate gyrus (DG), EC, CA1, and CA3. During stage 1, the first self-sustained EDs were isolated PSs occurring at a frequency of 2-3 Hz at all levels of the entorhinal-hippocampal loop, the only exception being the DG, where no signs of synchronized neuronal discharge could be found. Over the next 30-50 sec, the temporal organization of these EDs changed dramatically. During stage 2, at all levels of the entorhinal-hippocampal loop, EDs occurred in 0.3-0.5 sec trains of 16-25 Hz population spikes interrupted by 0.7-1.3 sec silent periods. The transition between stages 1 and 2 coincided with the occurrence of population spikes in the DG. Laminar analyses and multiple simultaneous field potential recordings revealed that the trains of EDs observed in stage 2 resulted from the repetitive, sequential activation of the hippocampal-entorhinal loop. In the transverse axis, the earliest event usually occurred in the CA3 region. Thereafter, population spikes occurred sequentially in the CA1 region, EC, DG, and back to the CA3 region. Intracellular recordings confirmed that the EDs recorded extracellularly resulted from the synchronous activation of the cells in phase with the locally recorded field potentials. Dentate granule cells, layer II entorhinal cells, as well as CA1 pyramids displayed large-amplitude EPSPs crowned by an isolated action potential phase locked to the locally recorded field potential. In contrast, the activity of CA3 pyramids consisted of typical paroxysmal depolarization shifts on which bursts of action potentials of decreasing amplitude were observed. These results suggest that reentrant loop activity in the hippocampal-entorhinal circuit represents the central event in the functional organization of hippocampal epileptic discharges.